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Recovery Support Specialists

Parents with a substance use disorders often struggle with feelings of ambivalence towards treatment. Offering the phone number of a local treatment facility to a parent with a substance use disorder is unlikely to lead to treatment engagement. A systemic response that engages parents as early as possible will maximize parents’ motivation. Recovery supports address barriers to engagement and parental lack of motivation to help facilitate entrance into recovery. The practice of co-locating recovery coaches and mentors in dependency courts and child welfare offices is used to improve communication between the child welfare professionals and substance use disorder treatment agencies, ensure a seamless delivery of services, encourage recovery and can lead to better treatment outcomes.

The resources on this page offer background information, strategies and site examples on implementing recovery support specialists in child welfare to improve family engagement in treatment. You will find information on the two most common recovery support models:

  • Substance abuse specialists are treatment professionals placed in child welfare offices or courts offering on-site substance use disorder consultation, assessment and case management services;
  • Recovery coaches/mentors are persons with lived experience of substance use disorder and child welfare involvement who can engage parents in services.

Contact us at or 1(866) 493-2758 to learn more about implementing substance abuse specialists or recovery coaches into your practice.

Policy and Practice Resources

Cover page of a guidebook Substance Abuse Specialists in Child Welfare Agencies and Dependency Courts Considerations for Program Designers and Evaluators (PDF 299 KB)
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2010

This document focuses on one particular model of collaboration, the placing of substance abuse specialists in either child welfare offices or dependency courts. The purpose of co-locating substance abuse specialists is to ensure that parents are assessed as quickly as possible, to improve parent engagement and retention in treatment, to streamline entry into treatment, and to provide consultation to child welfare and dependency court workers. In addition to briefly describing substance abuse specialist programs and their various components, this paper includes findings from eight qualitative interviews of programs that place substance abuse specialists in child welfare offices or dependency courts.

Medicaid Coverage of Peer Support for people with Mental Illness: Available Research and State ExamplesMedicaid Coverage of Peer Support for people with Mental Illness: Available Research and State Examples (PDF 118 KB)
Thompson Reuters, 2008

This report provides information to assist State Medicaid Agencies and their partner mental health agencies in efforts to incorporate peer support into the Medicaid program.

State and Local Examples

The Specialized Treatment and Recovery Services (STARS) ProgramThe Specialized Treatment and Recovery Services (STARS) Program
Bridges, Inc., 2016

The STARS program is a support services program of Bridges Inc. STARS works with three specific client populations and is designed to provide Sacramento County with case monitoring for adults and juveniles dealing with substance abuse issues. The program provides parents involved with Child Protective Services and Sacramento County Dependency Courts with assistance in meeting the mandates given to them regarding drug and alcohol treatment, testing and support. The STARS program monitors clients for the Dependency Drug Court and the Early Intervention Family Drug Court.

Project SAFE (Substance Abuse Family Evaluations)Project SAFE (Substance Abuse Family Evaluations)
Advanced Behavioral Health, Inc., 2016

Project SAFE (Substance Abuse Family Evaluation) is a successful collaboration between the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS) to improve the lives of children and their families in Connecticut. Since 1995, Project SAFE has offered priority access to substance abuse evaluations, drug screens, and outpatient treatment services to primary caregivers of children involved in child protective service cases.

Project SAFE: Recovery Specialist Voluntary Program/Recovery Case Management Services RSVP/RCMS: Staff HandbookProject SAFE: Recovery Specialist Voluntary Program/Recovery Case Management Services RSVP/RCMS: Staff Handbook (PDF 2 MB)
Advanced Behavioral Health, Inc.

This staff handbook provides general information and serves as a guide for the Connecticut Project SAFE's Recovery Specialist Voluntary Program (RSVP) and Recovery Case Management Services.

Illinois Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse (AODA) Waiver Demonstration: Final Evaluation ReportIllinois Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse (AODA) Waiver Demonstration: Final Evaluation Report (PDF 118 KB)
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2006

This report summarizes the evaluation of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services Title IV-E waiver to improve reunification and other family permanency and safety outcomes for foster children from families with substance use disorders. This project funded recovery coaches to assist birth parents with obtaining needed substance use disorder treatment services and in negotiating departmental and judicial requirements associated with drug recovery and concurrent permanency planning.

Drug Court and Recovery Support ServicesDrug Court and Recovery Support Services (PDF 118 KB)
Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, 2016

The Washington Court and Recovery Enhancement System (WA-CARES) project addresses the need for improved, cross-system coordination for drug courts and provides recovery support services (RSS) for high-risk clients who access substance use disorder treatment through the drug court system.

Sobriety Treatment and Recovery Teams (START)Sobriety Treatment and Recovery Teams (START)
Addiction Policy Forum, 2017

The START program is an intensive child welfare program for families with co-occurring substance use and child maltreatment delivered in an integrated manner with local addiction treatment services. Child Protective Services workers are trained in family engagement with family mentors using a system-of-care and team decision-making approach with families, treatment providers and the courts.

Additional Resources

Recovery and Recovery SupportRecovery and Recovery Support
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2015

This webpage offers an overview and resources on how recovery-oriented care and recovery support systems help people with mental and/or substance use disorders manage their conditions successfully.

Pathways to Collaboration: Factors That Help and Hinder Collaboration Between Substance Abuse and Child Welfare FieldsPathways to Collaboration: Factors That Help and Hinder Collaboration Between Substance Abuse and Child Welfare Fields (PDF 1.7 MB)
San Jose State University, 2008

This study examines factors that help or hinder the process of collaboration based on in-depth interviews with respondents from substance abuse and child welfare fields in five California counties with established policies and programs.

Related Research Articles

Berrick, J. D., Young, E. W., Cohen, E., & Anthony, E. (2011). ”I am the face of success”: Peer mentors in child welfare. Child & Family Social Work. 16, 179-191. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2206.2010.00730.x. From
Bohannan, T., Gonzalez, C., & Summers, A. (2016). Assessing the relationship between a peer-mentoring program and case outcomes in dependency court. Journal of Public Child Welfare, 10(2), 176-196. From
Douglas-Siegel, J. A., & Ryan, J. P. (2013). The effect of recovery coaches for substance-involved mothers in child welfare: Impact on juvenile delinquency. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 45(1), 381-387. From
Hall, M. T., Huebner, R. A., Sears, J. S., Posze, L., Willauer, T., & Oliver, J. (2015). Sobriety treatment and recovery teams in rural Appalachia: Implementation outcomes. Child Welfare, 94(14), 119-138. From (accessed August 17, 2017).
James, S., Rivera, R., & Shafer, M. S. (2014). Effects of peer recovery coaches on substance abuse treatment engagement among child welfare-involved parents. Journal of Family Strengths, 14, (1-Article 6), 1-23. . From (accessed August 17, 2017).
Rockhill, A., Furrer, C. J., & Duong, T. M. (2015). Peer mentoring in child welfare: A motivational framework. Child Welfare, 94, (5e), 125.
Ryan, J. P., Marsh, J. C., Testa, M. F., & Louderman, R. (2006). Integrating substance abuse treatment and child welfare services: Findings from the Illinois Alcohol and other drug abuse waiver demonstration. Social Work Research. 30(2), 95. From (accessed August 17, 2017).
Ryan, J. P., Choi, S., Hong, J. S., Hernandez, P., & Larrision, C. R. (2008). Recovery coaches and substance exposed births: An experiment in child welfare. Child Abuse & Neglect. 32, 1072-1079. doi:10.1016/j.chiabu.2007.12.011. From (accessed August 17, 2017).
Tracy, K., Burton, M., Nich, C., & Rounsaville, B. (2011). Utilizing peer mentorship to engage high recidivism substance-abusing patients in treatment. The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 37, 525-531. doi:10.1016/j.chiabu.2007.12.011. From
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